An alternate title for this post could be “How I was able to coach my daughter to complete her raffle ticket sales for dance in 30 minutes”
I had no idea it was coming but my daughter left her acrobatics class with an envelope informing us that we had to sell 20 raffle tickets at $2 each. My family has a lot going on and I wanted to finish this project quickly and simply. But, I also wanted her (at age seven) to take responsibility for this project and learn something from it.
We discussed it on the way home and I had her practice a “pitch”. It was simple: “Would you like to support my dance school by purchasing a raffle ticket for a chance to win $200 for only $2?” By the time we made it home, she had it nearly memorized. Then I had an insight! I would film a short 30 second video of her saying the line and then doing a backbend. Then I would post it on Facebook so friends and colleagues would see it.
We had commitments for the entire batch and then some in about 30 minutes! We had to pick up another 20 tickets today. There are 3 reasons that I think this little project worked so well:
The right audience
I’m pretty active on Facebook and I often post videos of my kids and their accomplishments. So, my daughter had a kind of fan club already ready to be interested in whatever she’s doing. (Don’t worry. I am super careful about my privacy settings.)
The right medium
I could have walked around the neighborhood with her or had her ask people at church to buy a ticket, but that would have taken all week probably. I’m already connected on Facebook to everyone from the neighborhood and church anyway. So, this was perfect as an initial step. A soft ask first on Facebook and if we need to go to a harder sell, we could later.
The right messenger
Coming from me, it would be people doing me a favor. That’s not as compelling as supporting a very cute little girl who just learned to do a backbend and delivered her fundraising pitch perfectly on video.
Next time you have to do a fundraiser quick for a specific purpose, consider seriously what the best niche audience is, where the best place to meet them with the pitch is (medium), and who is the best person to do the asking. If you get these three things right, you can raise the funds and raise them quick.
I'm on record defending both phonathon and direct mail as useful vehicles for fundraising. So out of fairness, I thought I owed my readers a post where I asked the question, "When is it time to throw out a medium?"
To figure this out, I first needed to consider a communication technology that is no longer relevant for fundraising marketing. So, please consider for this example, the telegraph.
The telegraph was the first method of instant communication in the world. As such it was tremendously important during its heyday. We now have so many methods of instantaneous communication today that we can't fully appreciate what a marvel it was at the time.
Still today, if we need instant communication, telegraph isn’t our only option. Email, social media, text messages, do the same thing as the telegraph but they do it with significant advantages. For instance, telegrams don’t contain visual content and they require a translator for the Morse code. Technology has far outpaced the telegraph as a medium for public relations, communication and fundraising.
The reason we still use the telephone and direct mail for fundraising is because they still maintain significant advantages over other vehicles, despite the proliferation of those alternate vehicles. As I have stated elsewhere, phone calls are active asking, two-way personalized communication. Yesterday, I laid out exactly what qualities make mailings still relevant.
It’s important that we are continue to be critical of each media we use for our message. We must be good stewards of the budgetary resources we are entrusted with. However, the fact remains that the more valid vehicles we use to ask for money, the more money we will raise overall.
The short answer to this question is “no”.
But, many will miss this because we personally (as marketers) don’t like getting direct mail and probably are cynical in our responses to it. This bias leads us astray from recognizing the particular advantages of this medium. We delude ourselves that email and social media will take the place of this ancient vehicle of communication because we relish the new and the innovative.
The problem is that our donors don’t think like we do. And groups act differently than any one individual in that group thinks.
The United States Postal Service had revenues of $68.8 Billion in 2015 and that number has stayed rather steady since 2009 (after a drop in revenue associated with the economic downtown in 2007-2008).
In 2015, USPS handled 80 Billion pieces of advertising material. Are all of the organizations and businesses sending through the mail kidding themselves? I don’t think so.
A significant portion of that mail is non-profit direct mail. In fact, 91% of nonprofits are using direct mail. Out of those using direct response, 54% saw an increase from 2014 to 2015.
The real answer to the question “Is Direct Mail Dead?” is “No because bottom line: it works!”
The question we should be asking is, “What is direct mail particularly good at? How can we play to those strengths?”
Direct mail has powerful things working in its favor:
Getting a hand written note (especially a thank you note) in the mail is so much more powerful than an email. Part of this is nostalgic and retro but that nostalgia is rooted in the notion that people today don’t take the time to write notes. Mired in our daily lives driven by insta-communication, when you do take the time to send mail, it’s noticed.
Everyone understands what mail is. We all know the conventions of how to fold the letter, address it, use the stamp, how to check the mailbox, etc. New media like text-to-give and various online giving platforms can be baffling, especially to the very elderly. Mail also allows us to form a visual brand that makes the donors feel comfortable giving because they feel they know that organization and trust has been built.
With all of the various information breaches these days, many donors feel that writing a check and sending it through the mail is more secure. The USPS is still a trusted entity protected by laws that forbid tampering with the mail. This reassures donors.
Although it is much more difficult to personalize than a phone call, direct mail can be highly informative. You can write a long and detailed letter and include points of pride on the back of the letter. You can include buck slips with more information for very little cost. A donor can, after absorbing your direct mail, feel like they have learned a good deal about your mission and organization.
You can hold a letter in your hand. You can keep it in a file for years. If an angry donor sends a copy of the letter with a complaint written on it to your director, it has much more weight and seriousness than a forwarded email with a complaint. Part of the power of direct mail is the same power as real books and real magazines. People like to hold something in their hands other than mobile phone or kindle.
Writing a fundraising letter is tough. Making it sound original and compelling is even tougher. Sometimes you can become stuck, too afraid of writing something that is stale and boring to get anything done. If this sounds like you, you have DMWB: Direct Mail Writer's Block.
Here's 5 steps you can take in about half an hour to break through your writer's block and get a draft completed ASAP:
Step 1: Understand that some words are better than no words.
The most important thing about fundraising is THAT you ask. Sending some mediocre letters out will generate more money than sending zero perfect letters out. Once you realize this, it is a liberating feeling. Something is better than nothing. So, don't worry so much about it being super-compelling and perfect at this point.
Step 2: Find a white board (preferably a big one)
On the top of this whiteboard, write what you are raising money for. This might be "OPERATING FUNDS" or "SCHOLARSHIPS" or something else.
Now go one level deeper and take that (in just a few words) to what it means for people. How will lives be changed because of raising money for this designation. So, it might say, "Funds to allow more students to study abroad", "more meals for the homeless" or "students able to graduate with less debt".
Next, you need to make a short list of 3-5 possible signatories for your letter. Do this step even when you think you've already decided who will sign it. Sometimes a traditional "dean's letter" or "president's letter" isn't the way to go. The best letters I've ever written were signed by students, the recipients of the support.
Step 3: Generate reasons to give
Add a list of 3 EMOTIONAL reasons that your constituents should want to give and 3 ANALYTICAL reasons that they should give.
You need a mix of both of these. Most people tend toward one or the other. For example, I'm wholly analytical. I like to know things like the percentage of the cost of an education that's covered by tuition. I like to know about challenge grants and alumni giving percentages and whatnot. The data makes a rational argument to my mind and that style is much easier for me to write.
If you are like me, you're not great at coming up with the emotional reasons to give, but an exercise like this forces you to work with both kinds of case making. The emotional reasons usually include a story of a grateful recipient of the support and can include nostalgia for the organization or pride in past work that the donor participated in.
Step 4: Evaluate
Based on what you see on your whiteboard so far, can you take the story or voice of one of those possible signatories and work in several of the analytical AND emotional reasons to give in one letter? (If yes, go to Step 5.)
If no, return to the top of your whiteboard. Do you need to re-address what you’re fundraising for or do you need signatories with more authority or better personal stories?
Step 5: Write without self-censoring
At this point in the process, you have a focus for your pitch (your designation), a signatory, emotional reasons to give, and analytical reasons to give. Now, get out of your own way and WRITE, without self-censoring. Don't judge. Just get enough text down in written form. Later, with the magic of cut and paste, you can remove, move and juggle all the juicy bits of language. But you can't get to that point until you generate all the phrases and sentences. Don't forget to think about customizing the language for your different segments along the way.
This is the best method I've used for snapping out of a direct mail writer's block: get your psychology straight, focus on what you are raising money for, the reasons to give and how that matches with who should sign the letter. Then get out of your own way and get it all down in words.
Happy writing! If you try this, let me know how it works out for you.
Among office workers, fundraisers are some of the toughest folks out there. #1 you have to develop the gumption to ask on a regular basis and #2 you get told “No” a lot. If you’re doing it right, you get told no more often than yes, a good deal more often. Lastly, fundraisers have to do this knowing that most of our organizations have persistent need and you’ll be asking year after year. Even if you finally complete a campaign or finally raise an endowment, there are always more people to help and more programs to create.
Is it fun to get told "no"? Nah, but what it does for fundraisers is builds resiliency. Fundraisers become warriors. They take their mission out there and champion it no matter the cost to their own egos. For example, it is such a feeling of freedom when you realize that if you expect 20% of your prospects to make a gift, which means 80% won’t! How wonderful to know that you can be told no that many times and it constitutes SUCCESS!
Without having been a fundraiser for so long, overcoming obstacles and the fear of failure might have held me back in my career and in life. But, I’ve fallen off that bicycle so much and had to get back on immediately, it just doesn’t bother me much anymore. I have fundraising to thank for giving me such a steely outlook.
Ironically, it’s getting told no that signals that you are asking enough. And it’s continuing to ask even though you get told no that makes fundraisers resilient. That’s another reason why I love my career in fundraising.
Glee is an amazing show. It’s the story of a high school Glee Club filled with misfits and “losers” and their journey to wholeness, friendship and (in some cases) success/stardom. I love it because it seems to be the closest thing to bringing musical theatre back to television these days. But, I also love the values and lessons built into the bones of the show.
For FUNdraising Friday, I’d like to pull a few of those lessons out and hold them up as relevant for fundraisers.
The lesson for fundraisers is that you need to believe in your mission, have a passion for it and let that shine through your work in the stories you tell. No amount of flash and trick lighting can make up for not having that.
The New Directions welcomes all races, geeks, those with a stutter, nerds, football players, cheerleaders, bullies, gays, lesbians, transgender students, the disabled and even those that can’t sing. I can’t think of a group that isn’t represented at some point in some way in the New Directions. All of these different kinds of people together make their group quirky and creative and strong. Hard to beat. The friendship formed across social groups ends up helping all of the students to survive their various life challenges.
This lesson is true for getting things done with your colleagues as well as including more folks in your volunteer efforts and fundraising/marketing materials. You need to listen to all groups of your constituency. And remember, when you are dealing with that particularly difficult donor, that all of the bullies in Glee eventually came around.
One of the early theme songs of Glee is “Loser Like Me”, a song about how those who don’t fit in during high school have success later. Success comes to the misfits usually because of (not in spite of) what made them an outcast.
This is important for fundraisers because we cannot predict who will have success later. Consider this fellow, Robert Morin, a frugal librarian who recently left his entire estate (worth $4 million) to the University of New Hampshire. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a good reminder that we should treat all donors (and all people) with the same respect.
I've named this column "Thoughts for Thursday" and mostly it gives me a weekly space to bring up whatever topics I want to discuss. But, this week, I asked myself, "What's really on my mind?" I have a few things that have been buzzing around my brain lately.
But, I'd also like to hear from you.
What are you struggling with? What solutions are you lacking right now? What trends are you baffled by? What ideas are you really digging right now? Please comment and let me know.
Here are some of the bees in my bonnet:
Again, what's really on your mind? Watched any good TED Talks about philanthropy and fundraising lately? Read any inspirational articles? What's the question you wish you had an answer to right now?
If you haven’t heard, Stanford University ruffled some feathers last week by announcing that is doing away with its phonathon. Here's the announcement from Stanford. Donor Relations Guru and Annual Giving Network wrote about it.
Here’s my take. Stanford is not the first to get rid of their phonathon and they won’t be the last. Does that mean that phonathon is dead? No way!
One friend of mine said “So It Begins” on Facebook about this because with such a high profile university ditching their phonathon, annual giving specialists all over the country will have to go into a new cycle of justifying their programs to administrators who think that their universities are also Stanford.
The truth is that Stanford could afford to stop fundraising full stop and they wouldn’t lose any market share for years. Eventually revenues might drop, but it would take a while. The loss of new fundraising revenue wouldn’t seriously impact their rankings or ability to recruit students for decades probably.
Stanford has two very powerful things that your university probably doesn’t have that make it possible for them to say to donors: “You meet us on our terms. We don’t feel like calling you anymore.” Or as they put it in their paperwork. “Give online. It’s the modern way to give!”
Donor Relations Guru makes the point that we should be multichannel and of course we should. Giving donors options and honoring their choices should be part of your plan. But if you aren’t Stanford and you don’t have a long game plan to replace the things that phonathon brings you (up-to-date data, donors, positive public relations, dollars, and donor education) proceed with caution. Don’t get rid of any medium that you can afford that gives your donors another way to give. I work for an institution that stopped communicating with donors via phone a while back and now we have to rebuild and repair those relationships.
Phone calls have significant advantages that haven’t changed:
Imagine if we just gave up trying to visit major donors and just decided to tell them all to give online. I don’t think we would clutch our pearls. We would laugh and wish that institution the best in their experiment. (I guarantee that political candidates aren't even considering giving up their "Get Out the Vote" phonathons!) Personal interaction works best. We know this because fundraising is about relationships. But it is also about asking. Phonathon allows us to do both and reach a large amount of people at the same time. No other medium does this.
If your phonathon isn’t working, it probably isn’t because the medium is dying. It’s more likely that the problem originates from poor caller training/management, you have poor contact rates or ironically, you aren’t calling enough to make your fixed costs worthwhile. There are solutions to all of these issues.
Bear with me for a minute.
Let’s say there’s an email type that you write regularly, maybe three times per week. Maybe it’s a report that has the same format each time. Even if it takes you only 5 minutes to compose that email, that’s 15 minutes per week. Doesn’t sound like a lot does it? It’s 0.6% of your week, no big deal, right?
That’s roughly 12 hours per year (taking out 2 weeks for holidays and 2 weeks for vacation) just for one report email. If you have routine 8 tasks that take you 15 minutes per week, that 96 hours (or almost two-and-a-half weeks of work) that you spend completing those mundane to-dos per year.
Take the time from 15 minutes per week down to 5 minutes per week and you’ll save yourself 8 hours per year on each tasks (from 12 hours to 4 hours annually). That’s a huge time savings. Annually, if you cut the time on all 8 routine tasks, you will only spend 32 hours per year on these kinds of things. What could you do with an extra week-and-a-half of work time? What important projects could you launch that you never seem to get around to? What contacts could you make? What donors could you re-ignite with passion for your organization's mission?
Which brings me to my Tuesday’s Tip. Always use cut and paste (whenever possible). If you send a routine email, never re-compose it fresh. Pull up the old email and set it to forward. Then just remove all signs that you are re-purposing the previous text and then put in the up-to-date information. Better yet, keep a word document with the language for the routine email in it and paste your template into an email anytime you need it.
And this is not just for reports. If you must routinely ask donors for a meeting, or try to get staff to fill out a poll to settle on a meeting time, just create a template and customize it each time. Also, you’ll save yourself time and headaches if you cut and paste file names and just put the correct date on the end. This makes files easy to organize and you can just CRTL-C and CRTL-V your way through it when you are saving files. A side benefit to this method is that you will make few mistakes. You’ll have fewer typos because you will have proofread your template many times. And the template will serve as a checklist of sorts that prevents you from forgetting something important.
This may seem impersonal but it is anything but if you do it right. Instead of spending time trying to re-invent the wheel each time, you can spend half of that time really thinking through how you want to customize this message for that donor or colleague or situation. More time on personalization and less time on merely typing. Yes! That’s donor-centric and makes you a better steward of one of your organization’s most important resource – your own time.
(I'm back!! Last week was crazy but the full moon has passed and hopefully the insanity level has slowed in all areas of my life.
I've decided to make Motivation Monday into "Reasons why I love being a fundraiser" for the next ten weeks. It will challenge me to articulate the reasons why I love my profession and hopefully it will inspire and motivate you to love your career.
My first reason why I love fundraiser is the travel. For a long time, I stayed away from the travel and thought it would hold me back in my career. But in my current position, I am the lone professional fundraiser for an institution and I must travel. Now, I embrace the travel and see it as a benefit. Sometimes I travel with my husband and kids (we homeschool) and sometimes I travel alone. Either way, in this past year, I've been able to visit amazing places and meet amazing donors. (All photos above were taken by me on work trips.)
I was able to have breakfast by the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara one morning before flying home -- a rare contemplative moment of solitude with nature for this busy mom.
I've taken my family on a train from Oakland to Portland and we woke up in a winter wonderland watching eagles dive into lakes amongst snow-covered Douglas firs. I feel certain these are experiences that we would not have had if I wasn't a fundraiser.
And this literary nerd has gotten to see the pew that Ralph Waldo Emerson used to sit in when he attended church in Concord. I've taken my 7 year old daughter to see the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz at the Smithsonian. She also got to visit FAO Schwartz before it closed forever. Of course, we could have done this on our own as a family, but it isn't likely we would have been able to afford it.
These magic moments happened because I am in a industry that still depends on a values face-to-face contact. Traveling to visit with the amazing folks that support the institution that I work for is its own reward and its an amazing perk.
Stay tuned for another reason next Monday and more great content coming up all week.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.